In Monday’s Part 1, we left Roy (regularly referred to as the Lord of Croydon in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera), having achieved a 7th place finish in Serie A in his first season in Italy. As it turned out, this was good enough to secure a route into Europe (although only as consequence of Fiorentina winning the Coppa Italia, which freed up a UEFA Cup place). With a whole host of new additions to the squad, both Massimo Moratti and the fans now had high hopes for 1996-97.
In the new season, Inter opened up unbeaten in their first 5 league games (winning 3) and negotiating their way through the first couple of UEFA Cup rounds (albeit requiring penalties to knock out Grazer AK over two legs). On the flip side though, the club was still drawing too many matches, and some dissenting voices were being heard from the terraces. In fact, towards the end of October, following a 2-2 draw at Cagliari in the Coppa Italia (after Inter were 2-0 ahead with 6 minutes left) and a disagreement after the match with goalkeeper Pagliuca (for his retaliation of punching an opponent, who had spat at him), Hodgson pondered a possible resignation. However, the job that he was doing had at least impressed some and he was contacted about an opportunity to return and coach in his native England.
Blackburn Rovers were on the hunt for a new manager, following Ray Harford’s resignation with the club rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. Also sounded out as a potential candidate was another Italian-based coach in one Sven-Goran Eriksson. After receiving an offer from Blackburn, Hodgson discussed with Moratti whether he was still wanted by Inter. The owner convinced him that he was, and, after hammering Boavista 5-1 in the next UEFA Cup round the following month, Hodgson agreed upon an extension to his contract until the end of the 1998-99 season. However, by the time this commitment had been made, affairs at Inter had already started to deteriorate yet further. Having been top at one stage, the club went 6 games in Serie A without a win during November and December, including a calamitous 4-3 home defeat by (ironically, Eriksson’s) Sampdoria, having again thrown away a lead (this time, 3-1 with 7 minutes to go). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8My-tf6XxE
Suddenly, the disquiet from the fans became much louder. They were unimpressed by the team’s attitude and the coach’s decisions. One fan produced a banner that simply said “Hodgson compliments?! Go home.” Moratti was now said to be privately questioning whether he had made the right choice to retain Hodgson’s services. Yet publicly, still yearning for a Scudetto, the owner commented “I remain of the idea that I have not made the wrong choice, but I hope that Hodgson can give much more than what he has done so far.” To be honest, hardly a ringing endorsement. Meanwhile, the situation at Blackburn had become intriguing. In December, Rovers announced that Eriksson would take charge at the end of the season, when his Sampdoria contract had expired. By February however, rumours were circulating that he was having second thoughts, with Lazio expressing their interest. On February 22nd, it was officially confirmed that Eriksson had performed a rather dramatic U-turn and was named Lazio’s new boss, starting in July.
Back at Inter, there was hardly an upturn in fortunes. The club embarked on another winless run for 4 matches in the league, meaning they had now won only 2 in 12 in Serie A. With the Blackburn job now up for grabs again, Hodgson saw a way out of his Inter malaise and a deal was swiftly negotiated. 5 days after Eriksson had reneged on his Rovers deal, it was announced that Roy Hodgson would be the new Blackburn manager from July. So, why had he taken this decision? Roy himself explains “I am 100% sure that Blackburn wants me. I just cannot say that about Inter.” As Moratti would later say, “He’s a man who suffers when things don’t go as he would like. Also, it has weighed on him that he doesn’t feel affection and the full support of the public.” A quote that illustrates a man who may be thin-skinned, but certainly cares. After another Moratti meeting, Hodgson agreed to stay on at Inter until the end of the season. This was to his immense credit, as the easy option would have been to walk away immediately.
Back on the pitch, despite their form still being patchy (as it was for much of the season), Inter strung together two successive wins in the league, and were now involved in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. Yet, it was becoming apparent that there was ‘widespread unease’ in the dressing-room. In mid-March, Aron Winter made a sarcastic comment towards Hodgson about the day’s training (shouting “Good training, my heartfelt congratulations”). After being told that he would only be on the bench for the following league match against Parma, Winter then expressed his dissatisfaction with the coach in front of team mates, and was subsequently punished, watching the match from the stands. The situation was not helped by a bizarre public relations own goal, when Hodgson told the press that Winter would not be playing due to gastritis. This was contradicted just moments later when Winter publicly declared he was in perfect health. This forced the coach into a rather embarrassing climb-down, commenting that what he said was untrue and the reason he did this was to try and “keep the incident in the family.” The Dutchman then contradicted this reported version of events, stating “We know that I have not refused the bench. I have too much respect for Inter and its fans to do such a thing.” Following this Winter’s Tale (hence the random David Essex link from Monday), Inter subsequently lost at Parma 1-0. Alessandro Pistone then complained that Hodgson had held him solely to blame for the winning goal. In itself, Pistone’s comment was hardly devastating, but it did provide a taster of the rather tense undercurrent.
Here, we’ll leave it for today. In Part 3, we’ll wrap up Roy’s time in Italy, and see what we can conclude from his experiences there.